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River Boat Cruise Through Europe: Our Best Vacation Ever
River Cruising Through Europe
Relaxed traveling, something to do every day, personal attention, and no crowds -- what more could we ask for?
Two summers ago we cruised on a river boat from Amsterdam to Vienna. The 13-day trip was our hands-down absolute best vacation ever!
Our ship traveled the breathtaking Rhine, Main, and Danube rivers. We navigated locks that took our ship over the European continental divide.
Every day brought a new port of call, a new city with an English-speaking tour guide, all complimentary. We walked through the cathedral of Cologne and the ruins of Heidelberg castle. We explored Regensberg at the mouth of the Danube -- the picture at left is the Regensberg bridge built in the 12th century.
Are you tired of fighting crowds on large ocean cruise ships? Would you like to visit Europe but don't want to check into a series of new hotels every day? You might want to do what we did and try a river tour.
[All images taken by me unless otherwise noted.]
Why a River Cruise?
Throw away your ocean liner memories: it's a whole new experience
Before this trip I'd been to Europe a couple times for business but never had the time to look around. My husband hadn't been across the Atlantic at all.
We wanted to see a bit of Europe, but hated the idea of busing from place to place and having to unpack a suitcase in every new city. When I started searching the Internet I was surprised to come across the idea of a river cruise.
Cruising a river is completely different than ocean cruising.
First, the boats are WAY smaller. They're specially built to fit the width of canals built hundreds of years ago. River boats can't be too tall either, or they won't fit under centuries-old bridges. Our boat (the Uniworld River Duchess) holds a whopping 134 passengers. By the end of the cruise we'd made several new friends that we still keep in touch with to this day.
A walking tour at each stop (and EVERY day had a stop) was provided at no extra charge. The boat had bicycles you could borrow to use onshore. Not in the mood for a tour? No problem -- just explore the neighborhood at your leisure.
Unlike the ocean liners there wasn't a 24-hour buffet -- but the three meals daily (plus afternoon tea) were exceptional and you could eat as much as you wanted at each. We were afraid our American stomachs would be hungry but that was never an issue.
Because the whole experience was more intimate, we got to know the staff as well. I only took a couple days for our favorite waiter to automatically know I'd want tea with dinner. The concierge was able to call us by name. It felt like staying in a luxury hotel.
We Started in Amsterdam
We flew to Amsterdam a couple days before the cruise started, to give ourselves time to recuperate from jet lag. I had enough Hilton points from business travel to get us a room near the Amsterdam's city park.
More Amsterdam PicturesClick thumbnail to view full-size
What to see in Amsterdam
The Scenery From our Boat - Our cruise begins
As we left Amsterdam we began a slow, relaxing trip through Germany and Austria. From the river we saw farmland, cities, castle ruins, and vinyards. Every day was a new vista.
Countryside and Castles - Views from our boatClick thumbnail to view full-size
Packing for a two-week trip
Any cruise vacation (river or ocean) means needing to travel light and pack well. I travel so much for business that I already had most of what we needed. Here's a few must-haves for long international trips.
I won't vacation without this clothesline. Tuck the ends of your hand-washes into the weave, hook the handles on the doorknob and shower head, and let your clothes dry. The weave design is brilliant.
Eagle makes the best packing cubes. I use three sizes for long vacations. Many clothes items wrinkle much less if you roll them up instead of fold -- and you'll be able to fit more into your suitcase!
If you're traveling more than a few days it's worth remembering to take care of your teeth We bring our travel waterpik with us on vacation and are always glad to have it -- especially after a steak dinner.
Exploring CologneClick thumbnail to view full-size
Going Under Bridges
Some of the bridges are so low the captain has to lower the wheelhouse and pop his head up through a little door.
Does River Cruising Appeal to You?
Would you like to take a river cruise through Europe?
Rothenburg (technically Rothenburg ob der Tauber) was one of my favorite places to explore. This medieval town is incredibly well preserved. The castle was first built in 1070, and has expanded since then. This is the entrance to the town.
More of RothenburgClick thumbnail to view full-size
As you can see by now, we explored a LOT of castles and towns on this trip. Heidelberg castle was another favorite. This is the view of Heidelberg from the castle walls.
Want to learn more?
These books and videos are great ways to learn more about river cruises.
Regensberg, Linz, and ViennaClick thumbnail to view full-size
This is the video that convinced us - After watching this video, we knew we were ready to book a trip.
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